Too Embarrassed to ask Your Doctor? We’re Asking for You.
After I had my second child, I began to have pain during intercourse.
I thought it was just my new life – something that happened when women gave birth. I never considered asking my doctor or friends about it.
But when it comes to those awkward and uncomfortable female body questions, doctors say there’s nothing they haven’t heard before.
“We talk about things like urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, vaginal discharge, and pelvic organ prolapse all day long.
“I promise, whatever you ask, I’ve heard it before,” says University of Michigan Health-West urogynecologist Emily English, MD.
Because these are topics we don’t usually discuss with our female friends, we often think we’re alone. We must be the only one who occasionally leaks, has pain with sex, or is experiencing itching or dryness, right?
But the secret women’s health truth is that many of our friends have the same issues!
Women’s Health Secret 1: Half of Your Friends Have Experienced Urinary Incontinence
Got urinary incontinence? Your friend probably does, too.
“Incontinence is so incredibly common,” Dr. English shares. “About 50% of women have it in some form.”
One of the most common ways incontinence presents itself is urine leakage when coughing, laughing, sneezing, or exercising.
Dr. English says other symptoms include an urgency to go to the bathroom with little warning or pelvic pressure.
I had incontinence during my third pregnancy. And also whenever I got on a trampoline. True story. And apparently probably true for you, too!
“If these symptoms are bothersome enough to impact daily life or routines, you should talk to your doctor. At UM Health-West, you don’t need a referral to see me for pelvic floor issues. We’ve eliminated that barrier so you have access to treatment quickly.”
Women’s Health Secret 2: Pain During Intercourse and Other Pelvic Floor Issues are also Common
As a urogynecologist, Dr. English focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of pelvic floor disorders—a general term referring to a group of conditions that affect the pelvic floor.
These disorders include pain during intercourse, trouble having a bowel movement or pain urinating.
“The pelvic floor includes the muscles, tissues, and ligaments that support the uterus, bladder, and bowel,” she says.
One in four women in the U.S. suffers from a pelvic floor disorder, and yet many women are unsure what these disorders are and how they are treated.
“Women have traditionally been quiet about these issues because they’re embarrassed or it’s awkward to bring up with doctors. But these concerns are usually treated very easily,” Dr. English explains.
Another common pelvic floor disorder Dr. English treats is pelvic organ prolapse. This happens when the pelvic floor muscles weaken, causing the bladder, uterus, or bowel to descend into the vagina.
“Women with pelvic organ prolapse can feel like there is a bulge in the vagina, or even see a bulge outside of the vagina.
“Again, it can be a very embarrassing issue to talk about, but it’s very important to bring this up with your doctor.”
Women’s Health Secret 3: Treatment is Available!
This should NOT be a secret, but it feels like it is, because no one talks about it. But you can get treatment for many of these conditions!
Like incontinence and urinary leaks, pelvic organ prolapse can be easily treated.
“We find that physical therapy is one of the most effective treatments,” says Dr. English.
“Women with mild symptoms see very positive results after undergoing our specialized physical therapy to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. It’s impressive to see how quickly women’s symptoms improve.”
For issues like vaginal dryness or sensitivity, there are over the counter and prescription creams that can solve the problem. Sometimes medication may be necessary depending on symptom severity. Botox injections may be helpful for those with overactive bladder or incontinence.
I was shocked when my doctor actually asked me at a routine checkup if I had pain during intercourse. How did she know??
And the solution was a prescription cream. So easy! She said it happens when our hormones change.
I didn’t even need it that long, but that conversation taught me that I don’t have to accept uncomfortable body changes. I can ask my doctor, and often, there is help.
And if the first treatments don’t work, there are surgical options.
“Many surgical options are outpatient and can be done at our Women’s Health Center,” Dr. English says.
While the exact cause of pelvic floor disorders is unclear, they can be associated with women who are postpartum, post-menopause, obese or overweight, or who smoke.
Don’t Remain Silent. Talk to Your Doctor, Even if it Seems Like a Small Issue
The impact of pelvic floor disorders ranges from minimal to life-altering. Some women only experience occasional issues, while others alter their daily life to avoid foods, situations, or activities that put them more at risk.
Dr. English wants to make sure no woman suffers in silence.
“If you are experiencing any of the symptoms I mentioned, call me or your doctor to discuss your options.”
Dr. English hopes women talk with their doctors about any concerns they have. Whether it’s a lump or bump, discomfort, or other physical or emotional feeling, it’s always worth bringing up. You don’t have to go it alone.
University of Michigan Health – West
Multiple locations across West Michigan.
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